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10 Herbs that Flavor Food and Improve Health10 Herbs that Flavor Food and Improve Health


Herbs that Flavor Food and Improve Health

Herbs contain nutrients that improve health in unique ways. Some provide the anti-inflammatory benefits of aspirin while others have the power to fight unhealthy bacteria. Start adding these herbs to your recipes today!


When you take a dose of ibuprofen or aspirin, these medicines block an enzyme to reduce inflammation. Research shows that the oils in basil have the ability to block these same enzymes. In addition to the fresh, crisp flavor it adds to food, basil provides vitamin K, vitamin A, iron, and calcium.

Uses: Top pizza with fresh basil leaves just before baking, add them to sandwiches, or thinly slice the leaves and sprinkle them over fresh tomato slices with salt and pepper.


Cilantro is a common ingredient in Mexican cuisine, and its bright green leaves and seeds are anti-bacterial. Research suggests that cilantro contains a compound that kills salmonella, a major cause of foodborne illness.

Uses: Add fresh cilantro leaves to salsa, tacos, dips, salads, and noodles.


With its pungent flavor, it is no surprise that chives come from the same group of allium vegetables and herbs as onions and garlic. They contain compounds that act as antioxidants to reduce the risk for cancer.

Uses: Add chopped chives to scrambled egg whites, pasta salads, potato salads, or to Greek yogurt for vegetable dip.


Dill has anti-bacterial properties similar to those associated with garlic. It can also help protect against free radicals and the carcinogens found in grill smoke. This makes dill an ideal herb to use with any food you plan to grill.

Uses: Sprinkle chopped dill over fish, beef, or sautéed vegetables. It can be used in omelets, or stirred into cucumber salad and tuna salad.


Mint is best known for its ability to sooth the digestive system making it helpful for gastrointestinal disorders, such as irritable bowel syndrome. It also provides manganese, vitamin A, and vitamin C.

Uses: Add chopped mint to fruit salad, or drop a few leaves into your favorite berry smoothies. It also makes a good seasoning for beef and lamb.


Research shows that oregano has the highest antioxidant content of herbs, and it also surpasses many fruits and vegetables. One analysis showed it contains 4 times the amount of antioxidants found in blueberries.

Uses: Add oregano to homemade marinara sauce or tomato soup. Sprinkle minced leaves over pizza, and simmer bundles of oregano stems in soups and stews.


Often a garnish, nutritious parsley should be added to your food, not your plate. Parsley provides vitamin A, vitamin C, and folic acid. Similar to dill, parsley’s antioxidant activity may fight against carcinogens, such as those in grill smoke.

Uses: Stir chopped parsley into pasta salads, cold bean salads, or tuna salad. Mix it into ground beef before making hamburgers, or sprinkle it on top of soups and stews before serving.


Not far behind oregano, rosemary is also part of a group of herbs with the highest amount of antioxidant activity. Several studies show that it can fight the pathogens that cause foodborne illness, such as Listeria.

Uses: Add chopped rosemary leaves to marinades for grilled meats and vegetables, or sprinkle some on vegetables before roasting. Simmer stems of rosemary leaves in soups and stews.


The oils in sage have been found to reduce inflammation, which is common in those with rheumatoid arthritis and asthma. It is also rich in vitamin K, an important vitamin for bone health.

Uses: Add finely chopped sage to chicken salad, or to tomato sauce. Add a few sage leaves to fish and vegetable packets before grilling.


Along with being rich in antioxidants that protect cell membranes, thyme is also anti-microbial. Its oils protect against microbes on fresh foods, such as lettuce, that could cause illness. Thyme is also rich in iron, manganese, and vitamin K.

Uses: Add thyme leaves to salad dressings, or marinades. It is also delicious in pasta sauces, roasted vegetables, and beans.

Lori Rice, M.S., is a nutritional scientist and author with a passion for healthy cooking, exercise physiology, and food photography.
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